Do you need a written referral?

More than a quick like or a few positive words that endorse credentials and other relative factors, a written letter of recommendation that speaks knowingly of a person’s character and professional skills may not only be advantageous, but also an imperative step in a process to advance an important initiative. The goal could be to land a job, gain acceptance into an educational program, receive an award, secure financial backing, or open a door to some other opportunity.

Choosing the right person and asking him or her in an appropriate manner should incorporate the same degree of thought and effort that one desires from the individual being asked to write the recommendation.

Consider the following pointers to succeed in requesting a solid reference:

1. Choose someone with firsthand information to speak on your behalf. A fellow member of a volunteer organization may address qualities like your commitment to the cause and the skills you have demonstrated through your contributions (i.e., your effectiveness in running a committee), but asking the person to endorse your professional services without the individual’s having relied on you in that way would be inappropriate.

2. Be clear about your endeavor and the purpose of the testimonial so that your contact understands which experiences and/or character qualities are important to highlight. Giving a relevant example of what he or she would possibly address could be prudent; however, you should not attempt to put words in the person’s mouth.

3. Simplify the individual’s task by supplying facts, such as the roles you filled and accompanying dates. Don’t make the person look up information that you could easily provide.

4. Put the degree of effort into your request that compares to the amount of time and thought the individual would invest to deliver what you require. For instance, don’t attach a quick email to a complex, multiple-page document from another source that you’d expect your reader to peruse. Do the legwork, such by highlighting, bulleting and/or summarizing the details. If a form with background information must accompany the letter, then supply the completed document to your writer.

5. Specify who the audience is. If you’re requesting a letter for submission to an individual or board, then give as much detail as possible so that the writer has a good grasp of the audience and can potentially address the individual(s) by name or position.

6. If your relationship is close and trusting to a point that the individual asks you to write something that he or she would okay, then make certain the facts and tone are right on target. Don’t overstate your assets.

7. State when you’d need the reference and provide adequate time for the individual to deliver. Don’t create an unnecessary imposition by waiting until the last minute.

8. Be precise about how and to whom one should submit the letter. Leave nothing to chance. Provide a preaddressed envelope with postage if an original document must be mailed.

9. Respectfully follow up to make sure the person delivered on his or her commitment. A polite check-in before the deadline with an offer to answer any questions or resubmit background material is appropriate and often appreciated by busy people.

10. Maintain a positive, grateful tone. Don’t demand or pester. If a person declines for any reason, accept the fact without demonstrating disdain. Some people receive so many requests for references that they either fulfill only a select few or decline all to avoid favoritism.

11. If the individual agrees but later shows no intention of following through, then let it go and move on. Don’t harbor resentment or burn bridges. If you must know why, then ask with sincere intentions to understand the situation. You may end up repairing some prior damage or sorting out a misunderstanding.

12. Follow up by sending a gracious, applicable thank you and any updates the individual would appreciate. You don’t have to give the person a play by play of the process unless he or she wants to be involved; however, don’t make the person ask, for instance, if you landed the job.

13. Return the favor. The individual may not require a letter of reference from you, but perhaps you could issue a testimonial or find another way to endorse or honor him or her. Likewise, if a deserving person asks you to write a reference, agree and give it your best shot.

Requesting a meaningful reference is no easier than writing one, a reminder to us all that our relationships and reputations are priceless.

My best to you,

Sallie W. Boyles, a.k.a. Write Lady

Thoughts or questions? Please contact Sallie Boyles, owner of Write Lady Inc., to exchange ideas about effective communications and gain from professional writing and editing services. Receive monthly tips and insights by subscribing at